Updated: Jun 12, 2018
Royal County Down Golf Club
23rd and 24th August 2017
There has been so much written about Royal County Down over the years I barely know where to
start with a review.
I had played it only once a dozen or so years ago alongside a trip to Port Rush and Port Stewart staying at the Bushmills Inn (still one of my all-time favourite destinations) and the Slieve Donard (prior to pre-Walker Cup refurb) and I would struggle to recall the detail of the trip, so when a fellow Luffness member and RCD member asked if I would like to make a trip back I jumped at the chance.
The difference between this trip and the last would be, instead of playing as a visitor I would be playing as guests of a member and participating in the Wednesday “roll up” known as “the hat” and the following day I would also get a 2nd go on the Golf World “number 1 links course in the world”. Great to play a course once, but to have a second go the following day would be incredible and an opportunity to really understand the course.
I wasn’t to be disappointed.
We (myself and 2 friends) arrived for lunch around 12 and were signed in by our the member who had invited us, and whilst the members room is very traditional and jacket and tie is required all the
members were incredibly welcoming and make us feel at home. Our names were already in the hat and there was no issue with us playing in a fourball together.
We perused the gallery of pictures, old and new, I think the most interesting one for me was the 2007 Walker Cup – the US team (Fowler, DJ, Webb Simpson, Billy Horschel, Chris Kirk, Klyle Stanley..) and the GB&I team (Rory, Danny Willet, and an old clubmate of mine at Criagielaw in East Lothian, Lloyd Saltman). The score had been really close in the match (12 ½ -11 ½) but there was no doubt which team had gone onto the best careers although you could argue that the major count is closer than that.
Anyway, after a long and enjoyable lunch (make sure and try Shortcross G&Ts and the cold table buffet) we made our way out to the course around 2:30pm – I must admit at this stage I was already pleased I had a 2nd round lined up in the morning. Now, I am not going to say too much about the RCD course as quite honestly you can read more detailed hole-by-hole reviews of RCD by much more esteemed & knowledgeable golfers than me but here’s my take on it in summary. There are few courses I have played that standout in terms of the views , the level of difficulty and quality of the layout. These are the tier 1 venues where a bad shot costs you 2 shots, where a slightly heavy putt speeds 10 feet past and where a fairway bunker results in a lost hole. Turnberry Ailsa, Carnoustie, Pinehurst #2 all fit into that category and so does RCD. I pulled my drive left on the first 2 feet into the rough – dropped shot, lesson learned for the 2nd day, make sure you go down the right. The short par 3, 7th is a rival to the Postage Stamp at Troon and the great Par 3s at Muirfield, Iucked a birdie 2 with the Pin at the front on the first day (48 degree wedge to 3 ft) but got suckered into going marginally further back Pin on the 2nd day with a 9 iron, it caught the down slope and was 30ft over the green (I can see the members smiling and nodding), luckily I missed the hidden bunker and escaped with a 4. Lesson learned – the front of the green at RCD is your friend.
We only had a slight breeze into our faces heading back to the clubhouse for both 9’s but still 8 & 9 and 18 were all challenging (the 18th Par 5 needs 3 good shots and don’t leave yourself above the hole as I did and 3 putt to lose the match) !
I like the “new” 16th a shortish par 4 that demands an accurate tee shot and wedge (none of us were long enough to be closer than 50 yards from the green off the tee) and the Par 3’s are all demanding
(although if there is a weak hole it’s the 14th)
I was soundly beaten in both our matches, particularly after lunch on the first day and I felt a score in
the mid-80’s would have easily been sub 80 at home. The course definitely beat me on both days
and I left with a massive amount of respect for RCD, from the hospitality of the members to the
course itself RCD is amongst the great golf experiences in the world.
Myself and my 3 friends had a debate whilst traveling back about which was the greatest course in
the world , nominations included RCD, Muirfield, Pebble, Pacific Dunes, Carnoustie, Turnberry Ailsa
and Royal Birkdale – there is no right or wrong answer but just make sure RCD is on your list. .
Our match, with handicaps of 5, 7, 10 and 13 finished 3&2 on day 1 and 1 down on day 2, losing with
my 3 putt downhill on 18.
My 3 top tips for playing RCD
1. The front of the green is your best friend – if in doubt that’s the safe target !
2. On the blind tee shots (and there are a few) pick a spot (look for the white markers) and
commit to your drive 100%, you will be rewarded
3. Focus on making your score on the shorter holes and accept minimising damage as success
on the long Par 3s & 4’s
Royal Counry Down– Trip Review (103/110)
Special mention to the starters who were ready with a few stories and show us on our way !
1. Proshop (9/10) – excellent shop with decent stock and choice, friendly and helpful. I resisted
temptation ! Oddly we couldn’t see any shoes for sale ?
2. Restaurant and Bar staff (10/10) – visitors lounge is excellent, happy to recommend the fish
and chips and the Guinness, but if you can get an invitation into the members lounge even
better and go for the Shortcross G&T !
3. Changing Rooms (10/10) – excellent, everything you could possibly want. Only beaten for
me by Sea Island, Georgia with the full bar and seating in the locker room. That’s an 11/10 !
4. Practice areas (putting green 9/10) – Two large putting areas, although one area had
recently been hollow tined - hence 9/10
5. Layout (10/10) –RCD is right up there with the worlds great golf experiences and is
“possibly” the greatest links golf course in the world. However a bit like Bethpage Black it
should come with a warning “only for highly skilled golfers”
6. Fairways (10/10) – all fairways were in great condition as you would expect
7. Greens (10/10) – excellent, fast smooth and a true
8. Bunkers (9/10) – the fescue grass leaving a ragged look on many of the bunkers isn’t to
everyone’s taste (although I like it). Some huge bunkers that you may lose a colleague in if
your not careful (the 12th springs to mind) so make sure you have all your playing partners
with you after each hole.
9. Value for money (9/10) – RCD isn’t a course where you ask “is it worth it” just save up and
spend the money !
10. Accomodation (9/10) – Slieve Donard) – refurbished since our last visit and now with better
rooms, and improved bar lounge area and an ESPA Spa (we didn’t take advantage of it). The
breakfast is 10/10, particularly the steam plate with poached eggs lying waiting rather than
the usual fried variety (I am a great believer that hotel breakfasts live or die by the quality of
their eggs !).
11. Local Restaurants (8/10) – make sure and head into Newcastle, there are a number of good
bars and restaurants who would welcome your custom and you never know who you might
meet. We bumped into former a R&A Captain who was more than happy to chat to us and
share some stories !
About the Author
Stuart Rowell (@linksgolfphotos) occasionally writes and reviews for Inside Golf magazine
and is an amateur golfer & photographer playing off a handicap of 4 and is a member of
North Berwick Golf Club, the Bass Rock Golf Club, Luffness Golf Club and the Scottish Seniors
Golf Society. He is also a regular speaker and coach on sales performance using among
other techniques “The Mind Factor” methodology developed by European Tour Coach Karl
© Stuart Rowell Golf
Location – 4/5 Newcastle, County Down, A short flight into Belfast City Airport and a 45 min drive down to coast.
Welcome Received – 5/5 Club is well set up for receiving visitors and you will be welcomed and directed easily
Practice Facilities - 5/5 World class facilities Some of the best facilities you will find – great driving range and chipping area with a practice green right next to the first tee, exactly where it should be!
Club House – 5/5 Separate members and visitors areas, with the visitors area relaxed and usable with golf attire. If you invited into the members lounge you will require jacket and tie
Course – 5/5 One of the world top courses. Exceptional design and views make this a must have on anyones bucket list
Stuffiness – RCD is a very traditional course so it has reasonably high standards of dress and behaviour.
YES Would you play again – every day of the week if I could. Cannot say better than that!
Thoughts – RCD is one of those courses you need to get to grips with early and be prepared to make some tough shots. It ranks up there in level of difficult with Carnoustie, Turnberry and Muirfield. Not for the faint hearted.
Location – 4/5 Newcastle, County Down, A short flight into Belfast City Airport and a 45 min east. If you are already staying in Newcastle then a short 20 min drive to Ardglass
Welcome Received – 5/5 Club is really friendly and visitors are given a warm Irish welcome from all the staff.
Practice Facilities - 3/5 Decent putting green, we didn’t look for a driving range or short game area
Club House – 4/5 Fairly traditional “town club” feel with lots of locals in the bar area (no golf shoes at all) and a relaxed atmosphere
Course – 4/5 Decent course with some stand out holes at the turn. All of the Par 3s are challenging
Stuffiness – Not at all, local club feel about the clubhouse. You will feel at home
YES Would you play again –Yes definitely, although I would hope for less wind
Thoughts – Ardglass is a decent addition to a trip to Northern Ireland. Set right on the rocky coast the views are terrific and there are some great local features (look out for the cottage on the par 3) and some challenging holes for all abilities.